What does it mean to be a queer black male? This is the existential and real life question at the heart of artist Clotilde Jiménez’s current show with Darius Steward at FORUM artspace in Cleveland, Ohio, I would have you be a conscious citizen of this terrible and beautiful world.
The show takes its title from an excerpt from Ta-Nehisi Coates’ 2015 National Book Award-winning "Between the World and Me," a Baldwinesque open letter contemplating the emotions, and realities of being black in the United States.
Like Coates’ writings, Jiménez’s portraits pull from deeply personal coming of age experiences to explore the limitations placed on the black body. Jiménez developed a body of work that focuses largely on depicting the ways in which racism and homophobia shape individual lives. “This work became a tapestry of my life that transcribes and reconstructs the societal idée fixe of the black body in popular culture, while also undermining the notions of gender normativity within a black subjectivity,” Jiménez tells The Creators Project.
Yet unlike Coates narrative, which focuses on the dangers that mark the heterosexual black male identity, Jiménez’s portraits explores the unique intersectional world of queerness, blackness, and his own body. In self-portrait Saint Clotilde, a young black figure wears pink nail polish. In several other portraits, boyish figures sport black eyes with the air of boxing as a sport and with a body in repose with the crossing of their legs. The body of work complicates the story of violence against black males in America today.
“I equate queerness and the raced body because I began to realize it was an inescapable subject, and one that should not be avoided. Many of my collages examine Marlon Riggs’s notion of 'Black Is… Black Ain’t' and those rigid definitions of ‘Blackness’ that African-Americans impose on each other,” notes the artist. “I am interested in unpacking some of that ideology within my work. I remember as a child in school, if I liked the colors yellow or purple, I would be labeled ‘gay’ because they didn’t fit the standard of what it meant to be masculine.”
The work points to the fact that gay black American males not only face fears of institutional, police, and communal violence for their race, but that their queerness also often results in familial violence and policing of their gender.
“In Self-portrait in Pink Underwear, there’s a kind of negotiation of what it means to wear or been seen wearing pink briefs,” says Jiménez, describing the figure that hesitantly and uncomfortably reveals his underwear. “Happy Boy also deals with some of these complexities with the gesture of crossing one's legs. Some of these collective ideas point to the confrontation of homophobia and speaks to how we understand black masculinity,” says the artist. “It’s important for me to acknowledge the problematic binary of sexuality.”
Jiménez wants his work to serve as “a palpable voice” that adds to the ongoing national conversation that artists like Adam Pendleton, Hank Willis Thomas, and Rashid Johnson are having about blackness, violence, and inequality. “I would hope to be a practitioner that handles the black body with a sense of humanity while telling our story in a way that can also reach a broader audience.”
I would have you be a conscious citizen of this terrible and beautiful world is on view through December 18 at FORUM artspace. For more information, click here.